On a warm summer evening, three travelers met in a small roadside hut, long abandoned. The meeting was not planned, or at least not specifically, though they had all three been expecting it. Two of the travelers were men of the sword, one darkened by the wind and the sun, one with the pale skin of a scholar. Each had hair streaked with grey, and a weariness about their eyes. The third traveler was a woman, a little taller and fuller than she had been as a girl, though not much. It was she who had entered the hut first, long before her companions, she who smiled at the two men as they joined her. “I’ve been waiting,” she had said.
It had been many years since the three had met. They brewed some tea over the small fire in the hearth, and they gathered around the rough wooden table, and discussed what had become of them.
“There was nothing for me anywhere,” the dark swordsman said. “I walked and walked. When I didn’t walk, I fought. So many people tried to kill me. They’re all dead now.” The dark swordsman showed no remorse for the trail of corpses that marked his path through the country, nor did his companions expect it. “I warned them,” he said, “Before every fight I told them, ‘You’re going to die. There’s only one man good enough to kill me, and you’re not him.’”
The pale swordsman removed his glasses, carefully wiping away the fog. “I married,” he began. “We had no children, but we were happy. I became a retainer for a wealthy lord. He liked me because I had no fear. I knew there was only one man who could kill me.”
The woman’s long, pale fingers danced around the edges of her cup. “Why are you on this road,” she asked, “after all this time?”
“My wife died. Nothing mattered.” The pale swordsman placed his glasses on the table. The were dirty, the lenses cracked. “I walked, and I walked. Eventually I met a man, one who made me remember what it feels to be afraid.”
A drop of blood rolled thickly down from the dark swordsman’s mouth. He wiped it away, bright red smear across his face. “Alive,” he said.
“It was summer,” the pale swordsman said. “Warm.”
“Cold,” the dark swordsman argued.
“And you,” the pale swordsman said, turning to face the woman, “What brought you to this place before us?”
The woman smiled the smile of a girl. “I walked,” she said. “I walked alone, so far, until I could go any further.” The woman’s fingers, long and pale, far too pale, danced on the edge of her cup. Beneath paper-thin skin, veins and tendons flexed and shifted. “I walked in my mother’s footsteps, until I reached this place. Then I waited.”
“You need our help,” the dark swordsman said.
“To find a samurai who smells of sunflowers,” the pale swordsman said.
The woman closed her eyes. “I want to tell him the things I couldn’t tell him,” she said. “I know where to find him, but I can’t go alone.”
“You shouldn’t go,” the dark swordsman said.
“You shouldn’t follow us,” the pale swordsman said.
“I know,” the woman said. She drew a coin from the faded sleeve of her kimono. “Heads or tails?” she asked, though it didn’t matter, it never had.
Three travelers walked down the road together on a cool summer night. They had planned this journey many years ago, though they hadn’t known it then. Behind them a coin lay in the grass at the side of the road, face-up.